Submitted this of all evenings, from this of all places, with the respect and hope due any President-Elect on the eve of his or her inauguration (but particularly this one), I am agreeing with Mr. Obama when he told George Stephanopoulos: "What we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."
That perspective, looking ahead and not back, makes more imperative still the prosecution of those who tortured -- and those who authorized torture -- in your name, in my name, in Barack Obama's name.
As the spontaneous chants of "Yes We Can" waft in to the cramped MSNBC trailer on the Mall (just morphing now into "Yes We Did") we have a metaphor for what the President-Elect needs to accomplish in this vital area.
I also defer to the President-Elect when he shows, as he did today and will likely express in his address tomorrow, that while we celebrate our liberation this week, we must simultaneously continue to work -- to work right now -- for what is right. The prosecution of torture might not have to be the first priority; it might not have to be a sweeping event consuming the nation, but we must have a catharsis.
Most importantly, the great and tragic events of our history have proven that the failure to achieve such a catharsis, the failure to atone, has its own tragic, long-range consequences.
From tonight's piece:
In point of fact, every effort to merely 'draw a line in the sand' and declare the past dead, has only served to keep the past alive -- and often to strengthen it.
We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence --and four score and nine years later we had buried 600,000 of our sons and brothers in a Civil War.
After that War's ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the South. And a century later, we had not only not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the South
We compromised with Germany and the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War -- nobody even arrested the German Kaiser, let alone conducted War Crimes trials, and 19 years later there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heart-rending Second World War.
We compromised with the Trusts of the early 1900's, and today we have corporations too big to let fail.
We compromised with The Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism, and we compromised with McCarthyism and got Watergate, and we compromised with Watergate and the junior members of the Ford Administration realized how little was ultimately at risk, and grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
We cannot compromise again.
And of paramount importance, whether the outcome of torture prosecutions is imprisonment or just an asterisk to history, their pursuit alone is the difference between this nation saying "no, our elected leaders were wrong," and it deferring to George W. Bush's vision that torture was legal, and effective, and saved the country.